24 October 2013: Transforming perspectives of art and science

Written by Kelly Tan | Image provided by CIPE

Week 7 2013

For some Yale-NUS students, things will never look the same again.

Students who participated in the Week 7 projects on Symmetry, Beauty, Global Fashion, Butterfly Biodiversity, and Art Identity and the Meaning of Things, were either expecting to be artistically imbued in visual aesthetics, or ready to kick back for a nature retreat. Instead, the projects opened their eyes and minds to abstract ideas, new perspectives, and endless questions that they had never considered before on the subjects and issues explored. This was exactly the objective of Week 7: Learning Across Boundaries, an innovative program at Yale-NUS that brought students closer to the environment in which they live in, so that they can find a meaningful connection to their education, in fun and unusual ways.

“We wanted to expose students to entirely fresh material and ways of thinking about the world that would build on some of the critical and analytical skills that they had been developing in the Common Curriculum, but using completely unfamiliar and diverse primary materials. Up until Week 7, the students were mostly exposed to text rather than the visual arts, so the aim was to show them a different way in which thought can be expressed,” explained Dr Maria Taroutina, who led the group on Art Identity and the Meaning of Things.

This project aimed to equip students with important visual literacy that will facilitate their understanding of historical objects and artworks from the past, as well as the most pressing present-day issues and debates raised in contemporary art.

“We were challenged to remain open-minded to new perspectives and critiques whilst still being confident of our own personal response towards art. I find myself learning a valuable way to think through the constant discernment and balancing of multiple views,” said student Daniel Soo (Class 2017).

Students on the Symmetry project embarked on an expedition to Singapore’s museums, architecture, landmarks, and places of art, to hunt for patterns that were often overlooked, but were in fact very much a part of society. In a very short time, they gained a new perspective of the city, where they discovered that beautiful symmetry could be found almost everywhere around them. The key to transformed perspectives, however, was the intriguing mathematical explanations behind the harmonious proportions and balance that are present in the world today.

Mathematics Professor Jon Berrick explained that the project enabled students to see the connections between the math inside the classroom with the world outside the classroom, while exploring the cultural aspects of mathematics that are generally not included in curricula. Christian Go (Class of 2017), a student from the Philippines, appreciated the exposure to the multidimensional side of the subject.  He said, “The study of symmetry definitely allowed me to see how applicable mathematics is to the real world – it is a matter of quantifying existence, and ultimately, many subjects in the humanities – especially the arts and even philosophy, are manifestations of symmetry in its beauty.”

Also witnessing up close the confluence of art and science, students on the Butterfly Biodiversity project realized that many social and political factors affected butterflies’ survival. Student Ami Firdaus (Class of 2017) learnt “how government policies affect butterflies’ survival more directly than expected”.

“We were also made aware of how butterfly population numbers are a highly sensitive indicator for factors such as air quality, plant biodiversity and plant species survival,” he added. To complete the experience, students picked up macro photography skills so that they could capture the beauty before them.

Other Week 7 projects that instilled multidisciplinary thinking and transformed perspectives included Encountering the Past, Telling the Present in EU Greece, and Ramayana Performed – Wayang in Central Java.  Read about them here.